Death's a Circus: Cirque Berzerk Combines Acrobatics with a Post-Rave, Post-Goth Sensibility
View more photos in the "Cirque Berzerk @ Los Angeles State Historic Park" slideshow
Cirque Berzerk's Beneath, which opened last night at Los Angeles State Historic Park, is a trip through an afterlife that merges influences of Burning Man (where the troupe initially formed), Weimar-era Berlin and industrial nightclubs while mixing the big top and ring of the traditional circus with the emphasis on live music, dance and acrobatics found at Cirque du Soleil. In this cabaret-styled netherworld, daring-doers in life must now spend eternity performing beautifully terrifying feats from trapezes, trampolines, balancing boards and even scarves suspended from the ceiling.
Each number in Beneath functions as an individual act as well as part of the greater story, its narrative propelled by original music composed by Kevin Bourque, co-founder of the ensemble, and performed by a full band. Stylistically, the music runs the gamut, genre-shifting to accommodate each act. It is largely funky, sometimes to the point where it sounds like a house anthem is brewing ("Four off the Floor"), oftentimes jazz-influenced and frequently takes a darkly electronic, borderline industrial turn. The Cirque Berzerk score doesn't merely help move the story forward, but provides a point of reference for the troupe. This is no ordinary circus, but one born of the subcultures of the past two decades. It's a post-rave, post-goth spectacle both in sound and appearance.
Shannon Cottrell Shannon Cottrell
Visually, Beneath can't be pin-pointed to a specific era. Costumes mixed neo-Victorian elements like abbreviated bustle skirts with Cabaret-styled outfits and a few more modern looks that were equally outrageous. Large sets were rolled in an out of the ring as video footage played off the back wall. But, the only thing more ambitious than the look and sound of Cirque Berzerk is the caliber of performance. When two men danced mid-air while suspended from giant, rubber cords, the crowd gasped with glee. A four-person, synchronized trampoline act elicited roars and a dance piece from two very limber dead lovers left the audience in silent awe.
The soundtrack for Beneath is available on CD save for one piece, "The Waltz," which can be downloaded for free from Cirque Berzerk collaborators The Wandering Marionettes (you may have seen them at LA nightclubs in recent months). Performances will run through July 5.